On Saturday 6 December at 6pm at the Palazzina dei Giardini, the Galleria Civica di Modena will open the exhibition ‘Robert Pettena. Noble Explosion’, curated by Marco Pierini, co-produced together with the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena with support from the Town Council of Spilamberto (province of Modena).

For the first time in Italy, the exhibition presents a wide-ranging photo survey carried out on the SIPE-Nobel sites on Italian territory by Robert Pettena.

Alfred Nobel, known as the founder of the prize that to this day bears his name, was also and above all the inventor of dynamite, a colleague and friend of Ascanio Sobrero, the Turin chemist who first synthesised nitro-glycerine. In the early 1870s, after encountering various difficulties in North-European countries, Nobel came to Italy to set up his explosives production plants. Later, his company ‘Dynamite Nobel’ set up a successful joint venture with the Società Italiana Prodotti Esplodenti, thus leading to the foundation of ‘SIPE Nobel SpA’.

Dynamite, patented by Nobel in 1867, was used widely for mining, in quarries, in the construction and demolition sector. It also fuelled much of the development of the railway network, particularly in mountain areas, as it facilitated the drilling of tunnels. The growth in demand for explosives led to a boom in the industry. The Dynamite Nobel factory in Avigliana (province of Turin) first opened its doors in 1879. Between 1888 and 1900, SIPE produced around 120-130 tons of dynamite. In 1891 it began production in Forte dei Marmi of smokeless powders for the Navy, then in 1901 at Spilamberto, in the province of Modena and finally in 1903 at Cengio, on the border between Piedmont and Liguria, where TNT was produced for the Italian army. Throughout the First World War, the SIPE Nobel factories churned out dozens of tons of explosive powders and ammunition every day.


These elements provided the starting point for a fascinating study on the history and the paradoxes of one of the most complex figures of the late 19th century: an inventor, entrepreneur and philanthropist.

The show features a selection of around 50 photos and various other kinds of documentation (photos, drawings, archive materials) on the SIPE Nobel sites around Italy, with particular attention given to that of Spilamberto. Pettena’s photographic work highlights the compositional value of the industrial architecture around the turn of the 20th century, and how they were integrated into the territory, often thanks to a kind of camouflaging with the surrounding vegetation, especially when necessary to reduce the risk of airstrikes. “The artist’s eye,” writes Marco Pierini in the catalogue text, “observes the current condition of the factories almost clandestinely, and while he ponders the buildings’ state of abandonment, it is not with the aim of rediscovering an anachronistic taste for ruins, but to underline the exceptionality of places (often still waiting to be bonified) where time appears suspended and life – were it not for the vegetation reclaiming its space – absent.”

The exhibition will be accompanied by a bilingual catalogue featuring critical texts by Angelo Bianco, Sandro Fussi, Francesco Galluzzi, Angela Paine, Marco Pierini, Marina Sorbello and Pier Luigi Tazzi.


Robert Pettena

Born in Pembury (UK) in 1970, he lives and works in Florence. He teaches photography at the Academy of Fine Arts of Carrara. His artistic research is based on the relationship between opposites: industrial archaeology and nature, bourgeoisie and anarchic values, the human being and the artificial object. His languages of choice are photography, installation and video. He has exhibited in numerous solo and group shows both in Italy and around the world.

Of these we might mention “Project Room – Scultura”, CAMEC, La Spezia (2014), “Joan of Art: Towards a Free Education”, MACRO, Rome (2013), “Nobel Explosion & anti-hail rockets”, Uqbar Project Space, Berlin (2012), “Anno del Drago”, Centro per l’Arte Contemporanea Luigi Pecci, Prato (2012), “Zabriskie Point Reloaded”, Rhizomatic Project Space, Amsterdam (2011), “Kunsthalle Athena -The Bar”, Kunsthalle Athena, Athens, “Robert Pettena”, Waseda University, Tokyo (2009). He has taken part in various workshops, conventions and residencies; he has taken part in the 52th Biennale di Venezia, “Pan Screening, Art Radio Live”, WPS1.ORG Broadcasts, and he has a number of publications to his name.


Home page photo: Robert Pettena, Uffici S.I.P.E. Nobel, Spilamberto

Event type Mostra
When Dec 06, 2014 to
Mar 01, 2015
Venue Palazzina dei Giardini
Opening Saturday 6 December 2014, 6pm
Curated by Marco Pierini
Organization and production

Galleria Civica di Modena, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena

With the support of Spilamberto Town Council

Press preview Thursday 4 December 2014, 11.30am

Wednesday-Friday 10.30am – 1pm and 3pm – 6pm; Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays 10.30am–7pm. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Monday 8th December and Friday 26th December from 10.30am to 7pm. Thursday 25th December and Thursday 1st January from 3pm to 7pm.

Price free

Galleria civica di Modena, corso Canalgrande 103, 41121 Modena tel. +39 059 2032911/2032940 Museo Associato AMACI


Clp Relazioni Pubbliche, Milan, Anna Defrancesco, tel. + 39 02 36755700, images and press releases from

Galleria Civica di Modena, Cristiana Minelli tel. +39 059 2032883,
images and press releases from the press room on the Gallery website

Add event to calendar vCal
Document Actions